The Story Of Wild Animals:
Story Of The Ferret
Story Of The Chipmunk
Story Of The Cavy
Story Of The Marten
Story Of The Lemur
Story Of The Echidna
Story Of The Mink
Story Of The Wapi
Story Of The Wolverine
Story Of The Skunk
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Story Of The Echidna
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
One of the queerest ant-eating animals with which I am acquainted is the echidna, or spiny ant-eater. There are two species of this queer animal, which differ widely in appearance from the duckbill and are found over a larger area of territory.
Instead of mole-like fur, the echidnas have the upper surface of the head and body covered with a mixture of stiff hairs and short thick spines. The head is rather small and rounded, and has a long, slender, beak-like snout, covered with skin, at the extremity of which are situated the small nostrils. There are no external conchs to the ears; but the eyes are of fair size. The opening of the mouth is very small, and the tongue, which can be extended at great length, has the long, round form characteristic of all ant-eaters.
The skull is devoid of all traces of teeth, and remarkable for the slenderness of its lower jaw, and its generally bird-like form. Although there is nothing corresponding to the horny plates of the mouth of the duckbill, both the palate and the tongue are thickly beset with small spines. The body of the echidnas is remarkably broad and depressed, with a sharp line of division between the spine-covered area of the back and the hairy under-parts. The tail is a mere stump, and the short and sturdy limbs are armed with enormously powerful claws, varying in number from three to five on each foot. Although the front-feet are applied to the ground in the usual way, the hind-feet, in walking, have the claws turned outwards and back-wards.
The males resemble those of the duckbill in having a hollow spur at the back of the hind-foot, which is probably employed as a weapon in the contests between rival males during the breeding season.
The common echidna is a variable species, found in Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea, and characterized by having five toes on each foot, all provided with claws, those on the fore-feet being broad, while the others are narrow and more curved. In length the beak is about equal to that of the remainder of the head, and it is either straight or slightly turned upwards. The smallest variety inhabits Port Moresby, in New Guinea, and attains a length of about fourteen inches, its distinctive feature being the shortness of the spines on the back.
The variety from the Australian mainland is larger, and the spines are of great length. Larger than either is the Tasmanian variety, in which the length may be nineteen inches, the very short spines on the back being partially or completely hidden by the fur, the dark brown hue of which is frequently relieved by a white spot on the chest, while the beak is unusually short.
The three-toed echidna of northwestern New Guinea is larger than any of these. Usually it has but three claws to each foot, but there is considerable variation in this respect, one specimen having five claws on the front, and four on the hind feet. The beak-is bent downwards, and attains a length equal to about double that of the rest of the head. The short spines are generally white, and the color of the fur is dark brown or black, although the head may be almost white.
Echidnas are mainly nightly animals frequenting rocky districts, and subsisting almost exclusively on ants. They are generally found in the mountains, and the three-toed species has been taken at an elevation of between three and four thousand feet.
Although it is definitely ascertained that they lay eggs, much less is known of their breeding habits than is the case with the duckbill. According, however, to native reports, the young, which are probably two in number, are born during the Australian winter, generally in the month of May.